Saint Joseph's-Villanova Preview
Now that the Philadelphia 76ers have won a game, the city's basketball attention may best be focused on when Villanova might lose one.
It seems unlikely to happen at home against Saint Joseph's on Saturday as the Philadelphia foes renew their Big 5 rivalry.
Jay Wright's team continued to cruise with Wednesday's 84-70 win at La Salle in its first Big 5 matchup, shooting 56.6 percent and knocking down 7 of 14 3-point shots. Still, Wright expects more from No. 10 Villanova (7-0), which isn't yet impressed with its unbeaten start after beginning last season with 11 straight wins.
"We can still get a whole lot better," said Wright, who saw his team jump out to a 47-29 halftime lead.
That wasn't enough to please Wright, whose team emerged as the class of the city with a 4-0 record last season and has an overall seven-game Big 5 winning streak.
"We were scrambling offensively," Wright said. "We were not executing."
Guards Dylan Ennis and Darrun Hilliard each had 15 points to lead the Wildcats. While Ennis has taken a step forward offensively in his first season starting at Villanova after transferring from Rice before last season, Hilliard is finally finding his shot.
Ennis is averaging a team-high 12.9 points and shooting 50.8 percent after being limited to 5.1 points on 35.3 percent as a reserve last season. Hilliard is averaging 10.4 points on 38.0 percent a season after scoring 14.3 on 48.6 percent. In the last two games, though, the senior is 10 for 18.
Even when he hasn't shot well, the Wildcats have generally found a way to pull away. They're winning by an average of 18.5 points and have neutral-site victories over then-No. 14 VCU and then-No. 19 Michigan.
Saint Joseph's (4-3) has no such wins to boast and was run out of the building in its only game against a ranked opponent, falling 94-42 at then-No. 13 Gonzaga on Nov. 19.
The Hawks, too, opened Big 5 play with a win, defeating Temple 58-56 at home on Wednesday. Saint Joseph's shot just 35.7 percent, but Isaiah Miles kept it afloat with a career-high 20 points on 7 of 14.
Top scorer DeAndre' Bembry (14.1 points per game) was 3 of 15 and is shooting 35.3 percent for the season after making 45.8 percent of his shots as a freshman. Plenty of that has to do with a drastic dip from 3-point range, where he's connected on 20.6 percent after knocking down 34.6 last season.
Aside from the Gonzaga loss and an eight-point win over Vermont, Saint Joseph's has had its games decided by four points or fewer. It's been that way in large part because of substantial offensive struggles, with the Hawks shooting 37.7 percent and 22.9 percent from long range.
"My team is a wonderful group of young guys who have basketball flaws, and they accept those basketball flaws," coach Phil Martelli told the team's official website. "But they can't be weighed down by their basketball flaws. I know exactly what we are. That's five games where the last ball in the air decided who was going to win and who was going to lose."
Expecting another might be a stretch. The Hawks have lost 10 of 12 to the Top 25, and their last encounter with the Wildcats was nearly as bad as the Gonzaga loss. Villanova won last season's game 98-68 at Saint Joseph's, its eighth win in the last 10 meetings, behind 27 points from JayVaughn Pinkston.